Ants tend to die in water as most of them can’t swim and have no means of escaping. As such, they often end up drowning or eaten by aquatic predators. Usually, only those capable of emerging from the water survive, while those that can’t, have to leave it up to chance.
In this article, we’ll discuss why ants typically die in water, if they can somehow survive in water, and how some ants can manage to escape the death trap that is surface tension.
Why Do Ants Die In Water?
Like us humans, ants simply can’t breathe underwater. Because of this, they won’t be able to take in oxygen that they need to fuel the metabolic processes happening in their bodies. Oxygen deprivation will lead to cell death which then eventually leads to the death of the organism as well.
Can Ants Survive In Water?
Surprisingly, ants can survive for a long time in water as long as they’re not fully submerged and their spiracles, the tiny holes on their exoskeletons which allows for the passive diffusion of gas, remain unclogged. And fortunately for them, they’re great floaters due to their hydrophobic exoskeletons.
However, just because they can float well doesn’t mean they’re already in the clear. Should the surface tension somehow break, then they’re pretty much doomed. Once submerged, it’s highly unlikely that they’d be able to propel themselves back to the surface due to the intense weight and constraints imposed by surface tension. When that happens, ants are essentially on a timer as all they can really do then is hold their breaths and hope for the best.
Interestingly though, this timer is quite long as ants can hold their breaths for a good amount of time. When submerged underwater, they can close their spiracles and live on stored oxygen for hours and sometimes even days. This gives them a chance, no matter how small, to possibly escape the water and reopen their spiracles.
How Do Ants Escape The Water?
The water’s a dangerous place for ants. In it they may eventually drown or if they’re in the wild, be eaten by aquatic predators. Thus, should they ever find themselves in water, their best course of action would be to find an emergent object and escape immediately. But how exactly do they do so?
Well, some ants do it by swimming. While most ants aren’t capable of swimming, some ants that are relatively big and have stronger forelegs can direct and propel themselves in water. This allows them to make their way to the nearest surface and emerge. Ants that can swim include some species of tropical canopy ants and most notably the diving ant Camponotus schmitzi.
As for those that can’t swim, they again mostly rely on luck to get out of the water, unless that is, they’re fire ants. While fire ants can’t swim, they’ve come up with an ingenious strategy to survive being in water.
What they do is create ant rafts, which as the name implies are rafts built with their bodies. During floods or heavy rainstorms that force them out of their nests, fire ants come together as a colony and link each other’s legs and mandibles. In doing so, they create a solid impermeable raft which attracts and holds a layer of air called the plastron layer.
his plastron layer enhances buoyancy and allows the ants at the bottom of the raft to breathe. These rafts don’t tend to sink and they allow fire ants to stay afloat until the water subsides or if they can grab onto something, emerge out of the water as a group.
Can Ants Survive In Hot Water?
Ants can’t survive in hot or boiling water. In fact, they die instantly when subjected to such extreme temperatures. As ectotherms, extremely high temperatures cause their internal body heat to also rise to the point that their cells get denatured and eventually end up dead.
Can Ants Survive In Soapy Water?
Not at all. Soap is a surfactant and will reduce the surface tension of water. Because of this, even ants that tend to float due their size and waterproof exoskeletons will end up submerged and most likely eventually drown. Even if they do get to escape the water though, they may still end up suffocating to death due to the soap blocking air from entering their spiracles.
Can Ants Die From Falling?
Ants don’t die and rarely take damage from falling. Their terminal velocities are simply too slow, meaning they fall very slowly to the point that the impact force when hit the ground is non-lethal. To put it into perspective, ants have lower terminal velocities compared to cats which are known for surviving falls from considerable heights.
Summary: Do Ants Die In Water?
Ants are survivable animals, but sometimes the water’s just too much of a challenge. While most ants are capable of floating and surviving for a long time in water, many aren’t capable of emerging from it and eventually drown or get eaten by predators. Only those capable of swimming or have devised strategies to survive in water, tend to make it out alive.